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Neophobia (from Greek νέος - neos, "new, young" and φόβος - phobos, "fear") is the fear of new things or experiences. It is also called cainotophobia or cainophobia (Greek καινός - kainos, "new, fresh").
In psychology, neophobia is defined as the persistent and abnormal fear of anything new. In its milder form, it can manifest as the unwillingness to try new things or break from routine. Mild manifestations are often present in young children (who want the small portion of the world that they "know" to remain constant) and elderly people (who often cope using long established habits and don't want to learn "new tricks").
Norway rats and house mice are thought to have evolved increased levels of neophobia as the became commensals with humans because humans were routinely devising new methods (e.g., mouse traps) to eradicate them.
Neophobia is also a common finding in aging animals, although apathy could also explain, or contribute to explain, the lack of exploratory drive systematically observed in aging. Researchers argued that the lack of exploratory drive was likely due, neurophysiologically, to the dysfunction of neural pathways connected to the prefrontal cortex observed during aging.
Robert Anton Wilson theorized, in his book Prometheus Rising, that neophobia is instinctual in people after they become parents and begin to raise children. Wilson's views on neophobia are mostly negative, believing that it is the reason human culture and ideas do not advance as quickly as our technology. His model includes an idea from Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which is that new ideas, however well-proven and evident, are implemented only when the generations who consider them 'new' die and are replaced by generations who consider the ideas accepted and old.
Food neophobia is the fear of eating new or unfamiliar foods. It differs from selective eating disorder. Food neophobia is particularly common in toddlers and young children. It is often related to an individual’s level of sensation seeking, meaning a person’s willingness to try new things and take risks. (See Sensation seeking.) Not only do people with high food neophobia resist trying new food, they also rate new foods that they do try as lower than neophilics.
It is very typical for people to generally have a fear of new things and to prefer things that are familiar and common. Most people experience food neophobia to a certain extent, though some people are more neophobic than others. A measure of individual differences in food neophobia is the Food Neophobia Scale (FNS) which consists of a 10-item survey that requires self-reported responses on a 7-point Likert scale. There is also a separate scale geared towards children called the Food Neophobia Scale for Children (FNSC) where the parents actually do the reporting for the survey.
Food neophobia relates to the Omnivore’s Dilemma, a phenomenon which explains the choice that omnivores, and humans in particular, have between eating a new food and risking danger or avoiding it and potentially missing out on a valuable food source. Having at least some degree of food neophobia has been noted to be evolutionarily advantageous, as it can help people to avoid eating potentially poisonous foods.
Food neophobia differs from picky or “fussy” eating in that picky eaters will often reject familiar foods as well as unfamiliar foods, whereas food neophobia signifies rejecting only unfamiliar foods. Also, while food neophobic individuals will often accept novel foods after repeated exposure to them, picky eaters will continue to reject them.
Genetics seem to play a role is both food neophobia and general neophobia. Research shows that about two-thirds of the variation in food neophobia is due to genetics. A study done on twin pairs showed an even higher correlation, indicating that genetics does play a factor in food neophobia.
Psychosocial factors can also increase a child's chances of developing food neophobia. Young children carefully watch parental food preferences, and this may produce neophobic tendencies with regard to eating if parents tend to avoid some foods.
Another cause includes being more sensitive than average to bitter tastes, which may be associated with a significant history of middle ear infection or an increased perception of bitter foods, known as a supertaster.
Sometimes food neophobia is more directly caused by an environmental occurrence. For example, with poison-induced neophobia, a food poisoning experience can lead to a person not only avoiding the flavor they associate with creating their illness, but also to avoid all novel flavors during the period of time directly following the poisoning experience. This can be seen as the body’s attempt to prevent any new and risky food items from entering the body.
Another environmental factor influencing levels of food neophobia is the current arousal level of the individual. Trying a new food is an arousing experience, and if the person prefers to maintain a lower arousal level in general, then they might avoid new foods as a method of managing their current arousal level. Also, if someone is currently experiencing a situation with a lot of novel situations and is therefore more aroused, they might be reluctant to try new foods as doing so would increase their arousal level to an uncomfortable level. This example can help explain why Americans visiting a foreign country might be less likely to try a new food item and instead gravitate towards the familiar McDonald’s food.
Some efforts to address this situation, such as pressuring the child to eat a disliked food or threatening punishment for not eating it, tend to exacerbate the problem.
Effective solutions include offering non-food rewards, such as a small sticker, for tasting a new or disliked food and for parents to model the behavior they want to see, by cheerfully eating the new or disliked foods in front of the children.
Exposing someone to a new food increases liking for that food item. However, it is not enough to merely look at a new food. Food must be repeatedly tasted in order to increase preference for eating the novel food item. It can take as many as 15 tries of a novel food item before a child accepts a new food. There appears to be a critical period for lowering later food neophobia in children during the weaning process. The variety of solid foods first exposed to children can lower later food refusal. Some researchers believe that even the food variety of a nursing mother and the consequent variety of flavors in her breast milk can lead to greater acceptance of novel food items later on in life. Food neophobia does tend to naturally decrease as people age.
- List of phobias
- Culture shock
- Cognitive ethology
- Paleophobia (fear of old things)
- νέος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
- φόβος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
- καινός, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
- Cainophobia, Dictionary.com
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- Alley, T.R.; K.A. Potter (2011). "Food Neophobia and Sensation Seeking". Handbook of Behavior, Food and Nutrition. Springer. pp. 707–724.
- Dovey, Terence M. (2010). Eating Behaviour. England: Open University Press. pp. 47, 48, 55.
- Moyer, Melinda Wenner (19 December 2012). "Picky eater kids: Their eating habits might be your fault, but they’ll survive.". Slate.